Road To Nowhere?

So much has changed since September of 2018 that we might as well have been living in a different world. Come to think of it, I guess we were. It was a world where we could gather in restaurants, host parties, travel, go shopping, go to concerts and cinemas. In short, we could enjoy life in close proximity to other human beings. And as crazy as it sounds, it was also a time when boxing fans could get their freak on by attending live fight cards in person. What a time to be alive that was!

Incidentally, according to many, including your favorite independent website, the single best tilt one could have attended in person in 2018 was the twelve round middleweight classic featuring Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin in their eagerly awaited rematch. A high-level and action-packed affair, hyped by the considerable animosity between the two stars, Canelo vs Golovkin II delivered intense fireworks inside the ring, controversy from the scorecards, and just enough violence to make us forget the long road of mamadas we all endured to finally get to it.

Canelo and Golovkin
Golovkin vs Canelo II was a 21st century classic.

Fast forward to December of 2020 and we find the circumstances for both fighters have changed almost as much as the rest of the world has. Canelo had to give up his much touted DAZN contract earlier this year after realizing it was worth merely a fraction of what he had been promised. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that signing a contract written by a bunch of amateurs stuck running a sports streaming app in the middle of a sports-cancelling pandemic was always going to backfire.

Not content with that, Juanacatlan’s favorite redhead also went ahead and broke ties with Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions due to problems arising from the flimsiness of the aforementioned contract. Words like “mistrust” and “hurt feelings” might also have been heard in the aftermath of the messy breakup; you can easily look up the gory details if you really care to dig that deep.

The Canelo-DAZN honeymoon was shorter than expected.

Ironically enough, while Canelo had been trying for months to sign for a big fight only to be rebuked over and over by the DAZN suits, all it took for him to finally get it was to give up his ties to his promoter and his broadcaster. Within days of having done that, it was announced he would be in action mid-December (namely, this Saturday) in a Texan venue (namely, San Antonio’s Alamodome) on a card broadcast on DAZN (ha!) against “World Boxing Association Super World Super Middle Title” champion Callum Smith (and yes, there really are two “World” and two “Supers” in that belt designation. Because, boxing.)

Meanwhile, Golovkin–now a spry 38 year old–may still have his own DAZN contract, though at this point not many know just how lucrative it remains. What does remain a fact is that Golovkin is still one of the most recognized names in all of boxing, and as such, it’s a priority for DAZN to pressure him to sign up for a trilogy match with Alvarez, believing as they do that an encounter between two of the sport’s biggest stars will make all of these headaches worthwhile in the end.

Canelo and Golovkin

But lately Golovkin has been playing hard-to-get, insisting that he has business to take care of and mandatory obligations to fulfill in order to avoid being stripped of his IBF title belt. And so that is precisely what he is doing this Friday night: taking care of business when he battles Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta, a fighter who would have fit in perfectly with the kind of opposition Golovkin faced up until 2016, when middleweights like Canelo, Danny Jacobs, Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez all refused to acknowledge his existence.

So ever since the DAZN suits signed up Canelo and Golovkin in late 2018 in the aftermath of their rematch–with the naive dream of staging a trilogy fight and making some of their money back–all they have to show for their efforts is this weekend’s two-day co-headlining showcase. This kind of foreplay is usually sold as an advertisement to the real main event and is itself an old boxing tradition, one that years ago would have taken but a single evening of your time, mind you. Then again, these days everyone’s weekend plans consist of little more than plopping our asses on our couches, drinking ourselves silly, and reminiscing about them good ole days. I guess back-to-back boxing soirees are not such a bad idea in 2020.

Canelo and Golovkin

Unfortunately, unlike during those golden days when HBO ruled the roost, now we can’t even enjoy the certainty that Canelo and Golovkin will in fact meet for a third time, assuming they both win this weekend. For one thing, Canelo has stated multiple times that his business with the Kazakh is done–controversial scorecards notwithstanding.

Also, Alvarez hasn’t competed at 160 since May of 2019, and he now seems more comfortable fighting at super middleweight and light heavyweight. Would the Mexican be willing to go down in weight to meet a rival he believes he already bested? Or would Golovkin, at his advanced age, take the risk of moving up in weight to try and avenge his loss against a younger rival who has only gotten bigger–and perhaps even better–since they last met? For all we know Golovkin might end up watching Alvarez debone Sergei Kovalev on YouTube one too many times and decide there’s no need for a third match after all.

Canelo
Canelo crushes Kovalev.

Complicating things further, there’s the not insignificant issue of Canelo’s business ties, which are now non-existent. The Mexican will from now on operate on a fight-by-fight basis with whichever promoter best satisfies his conditions. Next year, once enough of us get vaccinated and slowly but surely start venturing out into the world again, who knows what opportunities will present themselves to “The Rainmaker”? He surely knows better than to lock himself into a commitment with the very same company that left him no choice but to sever ties and make his luck elsewhere by himself. One can accuse Canelo of many things–demanding catchweights, unnecessary marinating, failing drug tests, not to mention the occasional cherry-picking–but being stupid is not on that list.

Golovkin struggled against Derevyanchenko.

This is to say nothing of the fact that victories for the Mexican and the Kazakh are not guaranteed this weekend. On Friday, Golovkin will face an opponent he would’ve steamrolled with relative ease not too long ago, but at his age and with long periods of inactivity between fights, anything can happen. As a point of reference, not only did GGG’s last ring appearance see him barely scrape by Sergiy Derevyanchenko in October of last year, in a fight more than a few thought he lost, but it also featured him absorbing lots of leather, perhaps even more than Canelo laid on him two years ago. We may find out just how much–or how little–the Kazakh has left in the tank.

And while Canelo is the clear favorite in Saturday’s main event against Callum Smith, the Brit is anything but a tune-up, with many regarding him as the top dog at super middleweight. This despite the fact he didn’t entirely look the part in his most recent outing, when he faced John Ryder a year ago. But having the chance to face Canelo Alvarez–one of the most popular fighters in the sport and considered by some the best pound-for-pound–is the kind of thing that might inspire Smith to give a career-best performance. Needless to say, a victory over the Mexican would be life-changing and he is surely treating the opportunity with the gravitas it demands.

Is Smith a serious threat?

The bottom line is two of the best of this era, Canelo and Golovkin, locked–perhaps against their will, and sometimes even against ours–in one of the sport’s premier rivalries, step into the roped square this weekend for the first time in 2020. Whether this leads to Canelo vs Golovkin III, or whether it’s a last taunt to make us ruminate on what could have been, remains to be seen. In the meantime, we rely on what we do know: that they are warriors who excel at combat and revel in violence. If there’s a better reason to tune into a fight, I haven’t heard it yet.       — Rafael Garcia 

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